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Genetic adaptations of endangered Australian freshwater fishes characterized

Steve Smith of the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology was part of an international team of researchers  who undertook the first characterisation of MHC genes in fishes of the family Percichthyidae, many of which show a decline in population size and are subjected to management and recovery actions including translocations and captive breeding. MHC genes are central to the adaptive immune response in vertebrates and are also implicated in mate choice and inbreeding avoidance. The Percichthyidae, or temperate perches, is an ancient and diverse family that dominates the temperate freshwater fish fauna of Australia and includes species of recreational and conservation concern (e.g. cods, pygmy perches). The four species studied were the river blackfish (Gadopsis marmoratus), the Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica), and the southern and the Yarra pygmy perch (Nannoperca australis and Nannoperca obscura, respectively). The study showed that the species, ecotypes, and populations are likely adapted to their distinct parasite fauna, a process that might have contributed to the divergence observed within percichthyid species. Including adaptive markers such as the MHC in future studies is expected to strengthen the chance of success for conservation management programs by providing researchers with information about genetic diversity that directly impact offspring fitness.

The article “Characterization of MHC class IIB for four endangered Australian freshwater fishes obtained from ecologically divergent populations” by Seraina Bracamonte, Steve Smith, Michael Hammer, Scott Pavey, Paul Sunnucks, and Luciano Beheregaray was published online in June 2015 in the journal Fish & Shellfisch Immunology.


(Web editor, 10 August 2015)

Open House celebrating the Vetmeduni Vienna´s anniversary year

The Vetmeduni Vienna celebrated its 250th anniversary year on 30 May 2015 with a special Open House day.   The university campus was open to visitors, and research institutes, clinics, and public areas hosted many public events.  Animal lovers, people interested in research activities, prospective students, and of course children flocked to the campus.  Overall 5.330 visitors came! The Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution with its two institutes, the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, provided insights into the fascinating world of wildlife research.  

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(Web editor, 1 June 2015)

An evolutionary heads-up – The brain size advantage

Animals with large brains are generally considered to be more intelligent and more successful than those with smaller brains. Alexander Kotrschal and fellow researchers from the Vetmeduni Vienna and Stockholm University have now provided the first experimental evidence that large brains provide an evolutionary advantage. In their study, large-brained female fish had a higher survival rate than those with small brains when faced with a predator, although brain size surprisingly did not influence male survival. The results were published in the prestigious journal Ecology Letters.

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(Web editor, 22 May 2015)

Austrian Science Fund award for research on ultrasonic vocalisations in house mice

During courtship and mating male house mice (Mus musculus) emit ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs), which are surprisingly complex and contain features of bird song. The discovery that male mice produce ‘silent songs’ has spurred much interest in this behaviour, and USVs are rapidly becoming an important model for vocalization research.  Dustin Penn and his students at the Konrad-Lorenz Institute of Ethology conducted the first studies on the USVs of wild house mice and found that females are attracted to male songs and that they prefer the calls of non-siblings to those of kin. Spectral analyses showed that males’ USVs are individually distinctive.  In this new project, Dustin Penn and Sarah Zala aim to determine what kind of information is transmitted in males’ complex vocalizations and whether they influence females’ behaviour. Their findings will have implications for sexual selection and animal communication, and may help determine whether vocalizations provide a non-invasive trait for diagnosing disease, genetic speech defects, and animal welfare.

The three- year project was recently approved for financing by the  Austrian Science Fund FWF  (Project P 28141).

(Web editor, 18 May 2015)

New FWF project on mating and breeding behaviour of fish approved

How do ecological and social conditions influence the mating and breeding behaviour of fish?  Charles Darwin considered the apparently widespread occurrence of ‘altruistic’ behaviour in the animal kingdom as one of the most important test cases for his theory of evolution by natural selection. Scientists puzzle over adult animals that raise young with whom they are not related, but for whom they invest a lot of energy and time without being able to pass on their genes.  Dr. Franziska Lemmel-Schädelin of the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology and colleagues will research the breeding behaviour of African cichlid fish.  They will examine various mating systems, such as the phenomenon of polygyny, where a male mates with several females.  To date there is no comprehensive explanation of this behaviour in animals, so Franzsika Lemmel-Schädelin plans to manipulate the social and ecological conditions of a monogamous fish species in such a way that the fish develop brood-helper and polygynous mating.  She will then repeat the same experiments with a closely related cichlid fish species that is known for its brood-helper and polygynous mating behaviour.  The goal of the study is the identification of key factors that cause different mating and brood-care systems.   The project was recently approved for financing by the Austrian Science Fund FWF (project P27461) and will run until 31 January 2018.

(Web editor, 18 March 2015)

Female mice do not avoid mating with unhealthy males

A male’s attractiveness lies not only in his physical appearance. This is true for people as well as for animals. Scent plays an important role for many creatures when it comes to choosing a mating partner. Female mice show preferences for the scent of healthy males and yet surprisingly they choose unhealthy males just as often as mating partners. This was shown by scientists from the Vetmeduni Vienna. Mating choice is therefore not based solely on odor. The study was recently published in the journal  Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

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(Web editor, 13 March 2015)

Sister act - Cichlid sisters swim together in order to reach the goal

Many fish travel in shoals as a form of protection. But the exact shoaling patterns – who groups with whom – differ from species to species. A team of researchers from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology studied cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika in central Africa. On their dives, the researchers observed that female fish dispersed longer distances from their natal grounds than males. To minimize risks and to secure the spread of their genetic information, females often swim together in a shoal with female siblings. Males, on the other hand, prefer shoaling with non-siblings. The results were recently published in the journal Oecologia.

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(Web editor, 28 January 2015)

2014 paper on mate choice in mice is mentioned as 'Top Social Article'

An article published by Shirley Raveh and colleagues from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology in January 2014 on the connection between female mate choice and the health of offspring in mice, "Female partner preferences enhance offspring ability to survive an infection", received special mention as one of the "2014 Top Social Articles" by the journal´s publishers. 

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(Web editor, 27 January 2015)